bobcat

Lawson Hill is ideal habitat for bobcats, though their presence means domestic cats must be kept indoors at all times. This photo was taken February 2017. (Photo courtesy of Jean Frankenstein)

Residents of the Lawson Hill subdivision four miles outside of Telluride live right in the thick of wildlife. Colorado Parks and Wildlife designated it as severe elk and deer winter range, meaning dogs, hunting and fences are forbidden in the neighborhood’s general declarations. In fact, as the neighborhood was being planned in the early 1990s, that wildlife designation was required to remain in place in order for the subdivision to be approved by the San Miguel Board of County Commissioners.

Deer are common year-round and in the springtime, newborn fawns delight residents. There are rabbits, raccoons, owls, songbirds, mice, rock chipmunks, bears, coyotes and more. And, though they’ve always called the area home, a bobcat has been a frequent — and photographed — sight of late.

The normally crepuscular creatures have been spotted throughout the neighborhood at all hours, padding down streets and boldly encircling houses and sniffing at cat doors. Like all wild creatures, they are looking for food and they go where the food is abundant. Lawson’s large population of domestic felines make the area a virtual cafeteria for the likes of this elusive predator, and in the unsentimental world of the food chain, some Lawson Hill families have lost their pets to the bobcat.

The area is ideal habitat for bobcats — Lynx rufus — that are attracted to the dense forest, seclusion and availability of food. The bobcat’s preferred prey is rabbit, though the species also dines on insects, chickens, geese, rodents and sometimes deer (mostly fawns). Where human populations and bobcat habitat interface it is not uncommon to see the cats. In the winter, when bobcat prey tends to be more diurnal, the bobcat will adjust its habits. That’s partially why residents of the neighborhood have spotted the animal more often these days. And, they’re struck with a sense of déjà vu.

Two winters ago, a bobcat cruised through Lawson’s wooded lots and quiet streets, hopping easily onto elevated decks and snatching housecats, much to the dismay of grieving families.

Lawson Hill resident Jean Frankenstein remembered her encounter, one that ended with the death of her cat.

“I was inside and my cat was out on my deck railing sleeping,” she said. “I heard a huge, not normal, cat fight and went running out to find a bobcat on the railing. I couldn’t see my cat. I threw whatever I could find at the bobcat to get it off the deck.”

She had to climb over the patio furniture to get to her cat, where she found her mortally wounded.

“Poor thing. It was awful,” she said.

That bobcat was trapped and killed, though many in the neighborhood have said they would have vastly preferred relocating the cat.

On Monday, Lawson Hill homeowners received an email from the HOA:

“For your information, we have a large bobcat that has taken up residence in Lawson Hill. It has been seen at all times of the day, on and under decks and walking through the development in the middle of the day. There have been reports that some domestic cats have been chased or are missing. This is to let you know you should keep your domestic cats inside at this time, for their protection. We have contacted a trapper who will set traps this evening and with any luck, we will catch him promptly. We will let you know as soon as it has been removed.”

There has been no word, as of press time Friday afternoon, on if the bobcat has been captured.

According to the website bigcatrescue.org, however, relocation may not be the answer. Bobcats occupy a large territory — as much as 5 square miles — which is marked with its urine, feces and claw marks. Releasing a captured bobcat elsewhere often means placing it in another cat’s territory. That, the website states, will likely result in a fight to the death.

“Except for an overlapping of territory during mating, the cats patrol and defend their boundaries against other cats and other top predators. These boundaries must be fiercely guarded or the cats will starve to death.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife district wildlife manager Mark Caddy concurs, saying that relocating is problematic no matter the animal.

“We do it with bears occasionally,” he said. “But the problem with wildlife that have learned bad behavior is that you’re putting it in someone else’s backyard.”

In the case of the Lawson Hill bobcat, the creature is not necessarily exhibiting bad behavior.

“It’s just doing what bobcats do,” Caddy said.

Caddy emphasized the importance of keeping domestic cats indoors (bobcats are far from a house cat’s only predator), of not leaving pet food outdoors, and scaring off unwanted bobcat presence with loud noise and intimidating behavior.

“I understand personal feelings when it comes to people’s pets,” he said. “You’ve got to harass it so it doesn’t want to be around houses.”

The Lawson Hill bobcat is likely habituated, according to Mark Vieira, parks and wildlife’s carnivore and furbearer program manager based in Fort Collins, given that the cat has been spotted throughout the course of the day.

“A bobcat with high human habituation that doesn’t see any risks or threats to being around people during the day and while it is light out is probably just reflecting that comfort,” Vieira said.

He added that, like deer and bears in some areas (like Lawson Hill), the animals have become accustomed to being near human activity.

Bobcat hunting season in Colorado is Dec. 1 through the end of February, and pelts must receive a state seal within five days of the end of the season before they can be sold, possessed or transported. Lawson Hill’s general declarations prohibit hunting in the subdivision.